Pitayro Ukah, a Truku, has spent more than a decade collecting over 200 traditional songs sung by members of his community in Hualien County, and issued two albums as part of his efforts to preserve and promote the Aboriginal culture.
Traditional Truku songs have only four notes — Re, Mi, So and La — but combinations of rhythms create different songs, Pitayro Ukah said on Sunday.
“We sing to express our thoughts, so traditional songs can be used for daily conversations,” he said. “They can be casual and spontaneous, and useful for easing tension.”
With each family having its own melodies and lyrics, Pitayro Ukah said that he grew up listening to adults use traditional songs to communicate, with the singer using volume, rhythm and singing method to express moods.
After returning to Sioulin Township’s (秀林) Jiamin Community in 2002, Pitayro Ukah said that he and his wife, Hsueh Kuo-fang (薛國芳), established a music studio named Ketusan, or “rebirth” in the Truku language, before embarking on a 15-year project to collect traditional songs.
With an audio recorder, they visited many elderly people in the community, recording not only the melodies created by their families, but also the stories behind the songs, he said.
The lyrics of traditional songs were often used by ancestors to pass down lessons or wisdom to successive generations, so the songs were rarely shared outside the family, he said, adding that several visits were sometimes needed before the elderly people opened up.
Pointing at a tattoo of Aboriginal patterns on his forehead, Pitayro Ukah said that only Truku who have undergone gaya, or “ancestral lessons,” are given the tattoo, so older members of the community are more willing to speak with him.
After collecting more than 200 traditional songs, Pitayro Ukah recorded two albums that included some of the songs, he said, adding that he was the singer, while his wife arranged the music.
The first album got into the Midem music festival — the leading international event for global music, held annually in Cannes, France — and the second album won Best Creation in the Traditional Arts and Music category at the 2015 Golden Melody Awards, Pitayro Ukah said.
In the final moments of his life, a Truku priest told Pitayro Ukah: “I have listened to these two albums over and over again, and it feels like every bit of Truku culture is in them. The music comforted and touched me.”
“Such validation brought me to tears and made me feel that everything was worth it,” Pitayro Ukah said.
As hunters share their game with community members, these collected traditional songs are to be shared with Truku and those interested in Truku culture, he added.
Pitayro Ukah also gives presentations where he shows people how to set traps for animals and shoot arrows, he said, adding that his daughter, Tumun Pitayru, has set up the KTS Cultural Heritage & Creative Space next to his studio to promote Aboriginal culture.
Tumun Pitayru creates theater productions and videos, and Pitayro Ukah said that he has been featured in musical performances — even in Europe, Australia or the US.
Asked what his next move would be, Pitayro Ukah said that a key principle in Truku culture is to live every day to the fullest.
Given that the younger generation is assisting with cultural preservation, he said that he would have more time to go through his song collection — or maybe to record the almost-lost melodies of his own family.
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